C3H/HeJBir is a mouse substrain that is highly susceptible to colitis. Their CD4+ T cells react to Ags of the commensal enteric bacteria, and the latter can mediate colitis when activated by these Ags and transferred to histocompatible scid recipients. In this study, multiple long-term C3H/HeJBir CD4+ T cell (Bir) lines reactive to commensal enteric bacterial Ags have been generated. All these were Ag specific, pauciclonal, and Th1 predominant; most induced colitis uniformly after transfer to scid recipients. Lesions were focal and marked by increased expression of IL-12p40 and IFN-γ mRNA and protein. Pathogenic Bir T cell lines expressed CD40 ligand (CD40L) when cultured with Ag-pulsed APCs in vitro. Production of IL-12 was also increased in such cultures, an effect that was Ag- and T cell-dependent and required costimulation by CD40, but not by B7. The two Bir T cell lines that did not induce lesions after transfer failed to significantly express CD40L or increase IL-12 when cultured with Ag-pulsed APCs. Administration of anti- CD40L blocked disease expression induced by pathogenic T cells. We conclude that interactions in the colon mucosa between CD40L-expressing Bir Th1 cells with APCs endogenously loaded with commensal bacterial Ags are critical for sustained increases in local IL-12 production and progression to colitis.